Free Seth Smith

Yesterday, we talked about Troy Tulowitzki powering the Rockies resurgence in June. While he’s the main reason, he’s not the only cog in the Colorado offense having a good month. Seth Smith is hitting .417/.463/.556 in June, fulfilling GM Dan O’Dowd’s preseason predictions of a breakout year.

Only, it’s only sort of a breakout season, because Smith keeps finding himself on the bench. It’s hard to break out when you’re sharing time with inferior players. Smith has appeared in 16 games this month, starting eight of them. He has 41 plate appearances in June, the same number as Ryan Spilborghs, who got the start in left field again last night. Spilborgh’s slugging percentage this month is lower than Smith’s batting average. Yet it’s Smith, not Spilborghs, who has been relegated to pinch-hitting duties the last few weeks.

How Smith has been handled by the Rockies this year is ridiculous. He hit .324/.490/.595 in April, despite only starting nine of the 18 games he appeared in and racking up all of 49 plate appearances. The Rockies responded to his hot start by giving him a whopping 60 plate appearances in April, and while his average sank, he drew 11 walks and had five extra base hits. In June, the average is back, and he’s still not playing.

For the season, Smith is hitting .303/.427/.500 for a .412 wOBA. He’s started 29 of the Rockies 72 games. He’s on pace for just over 340 plate appearances. He has a .412 wOBA.

There’s no argument to be made that Spilborghs is a better player. Smith is a 26-year-old patient hitter with gap power and above average defensive abilities who hits both lefties and righties. Spilborghs is a right-handed platoon guy who can hit lefties but shouldn’t ever start against an RHP. Especially not at the expense of Seth Smith.

Both Clint Hurdle and Jim Tracy should be embarrassed by how they’ve handled Smith this season. The team consideres themselves contenders now that they’ve caught fire, and yet they continue to let one of their best players languish on the bench. If you don’t want to play him regularly, Colorado, I’m sure 29 other teams would love to give him a real job.

Stop with the insanity. Put Seth Smith in the line-up and leave him there.

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Dave is a co-founder of and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.

25 Responses to “Free Seth Smith”

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  1. mymrbig says:

    Hmm, the M’s could use a LH outfielder after losing Chavez and the Rockies could use some pitching. Hmm. Hmm. I see a few potential matches there, though the Rockies would probably be smart by looking to move Spilborghs (as is rumored) to free up playing time for Smith, instead of the other way around.

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    • The Ancient Mariner says:

      Paging Jack Zduriencik . . . Mr. Zduriencik, please come to the white courtesy phone . . .

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    • puck says:

      I’m a Rockies fan and a big Seth Smith fan. I can already see Smith being referred to as a “pinch hitter deluxe” (he’s 10 for 22 so far). I wonder if now they’ll never see him as a starter, but instead as a “super sub.”

      If that’s the case, please, someone trade for Smith if you can give him a good home. I’d like to see what he can do playing full time. I don’t think that will happen in Colorado, as they’d both have to trade Spilly *and* give up on Carlos Gonzalez.

      That said…in the current config of the team, I can see why Smith is losing out. What are the projections/MLE’s for Smith and Spilly? ZiPS had them pretty close, and if the non-Carlos Gonzalez playing time in left is when a lefty starter is on the mound, it makes sense to start Spilborghs.

      Smith is really losing out to Carlos Gonzalez, and that’s based on CarGon’s stint in Colorado Springs, from which the Rockies must have concluded that he’s improved his plate discipline and it’s time to find out what he can do.

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  2. mike says:

    I’m convinced, Dave, in situations akin to Seth Smith, there has to exist the factor of personality issues or work ethic. I have come to the point that teams cannot be this dismissive about one player’s value over their teammate’s.

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    • puck says:

      I don’t think that’s the main reason why Smith isn’t playing, or that lately, Spilborghs has been getting the few non-Carlos Gonzalez starts in LF. (Though the team does like Spilly’s personality). They’ve been starting CarGon fulltime, spelling him with Spilly against lefties.

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      • puck says:

        I missed a game. Looks like Spilborghs has had one LF start against a righty since Tracy took over on 5/29–vs. Gallardo on June 11. Not sure what was up there, but at least Spilly went 2 for 4 with a walk.

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  3. Christo P. Ney says:

    Yeah, the home run Smith hit against the Angels Monday seemed like it was about 15 feet off the ground during its entire flight. Just a shot.

    And he has that early Hafner kind of crouch that makes it seem like he has total control of the strike zone and an understanding exactly what he can hit.

    But this is that time of year when guys who are going to be moved will play more as a showcase-type thingy. Spilborghs is that guy.

    Couple that with the Rockies’ penchant for paying way too much attention to lefty-righty splits, impeding the progress (and heck, marketability) of guys like Brad Hawpe and you got a weird Rockies’ outfield stew goin’.

    He’ll probably be packaged for some 7th inning guy soon (Embree? Rincon? Ugh.).

    I would like to see a bigger defensive sample size from Smith, though. He’s a bit lumbering at a relatively young age and his minor league defensive numbers were far from stellar.

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    • puck says:

      Good point on the defense sample. By ML D #’s, are you referring to those on ? Those are essentially TotalZone, right?

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    • battlekow says:

      Smith’s minor league D numbers are not only bad, they’re like the worst in baseball over that time period.

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      • puck says:

        Yeah, seeing them at 10/150 or (much) worse 3 seasons in a row is kind of scary. From observation, he doesn’t look that bad to me, esp. given that he’s in LF instead of RF as he was in those 3 horrible minor league seasons. (That is, with LF having less difficult throws and the avg LF’er being worse than the avg RF’er.)

        He was a backup QB at Ole Miss, but his throws have looked horrible so far. If his throws this season are indicative, he might have been -5 or -10 with the arm by itself.

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  4. DavidA says:

    FINALLY. I have been waited for someone to write about this for a long time. I have Smith on my NL-only fantasy team and it just kills me to have to bench him most weeks because the Rockies haven’t been giving him enough ABs to really produce. Last week was a great example, when he ONLY went 5 for 11, and broke my heart on the last night with a 1Hr 4 RBI performance in his lone start of the week.

    Why is this guy not playing every single day? I don’t get it. I believe he can even hit lefties. Granted, there hasn’t been a big sample size in the majors, but the last time I looked at his splits they seemed pretty even.

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  5. wobatus says:

    Eh, Smith is prety good, but an awful lot of love for a couple of hundred career at bats. Spillborghs was better in more at bats last year. Maybe he deserves a few more at bats, but I wouldn’t say “Hurdle and Tracy should be embarassed.” That’s a bit harsh. He has done well in a role an deserves some expansion, but I wouldn’t freak out over it. And Spilborghs isn’t awful defensively in right, it seems. You are suggesting after 50 at bats in April they should have completely ignored last year. And I do like Smith. At this point he deserves more, but I thought y’all didn’t genuflect over small sample sizes here.

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  6. I have to agree with wobatus regarding sample sizes. Spilbourghs was pretty good the past two seasons. One month of suckitude is a bit hasty to push aside his 2007 and 2008 seasons.

    Besides, it looks like he and Smith should be platoon buddies as both are not that good against the same handed hurler. The Rockies have been almost totally playing Smith against RHP, there must be a reason for that. Unless you are saying that what he does mainly against RHP will be duplicated when he starts facing his fair share of LHP.

    Giants fans had the same fallacy with how good Yorvit Torrealba was. Baker played him mostly against LHP, which he killed, but once he started playing more against RHP, that’s when the cracks showed up.

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    • puck says:

      “The Rockies have been almost totally playing Smith against RHP, there must be a reason for that.”

      Yes, this is due to the logjam in the OF rather than some perception he can’t hit lefties. (E.g. while they try to get the platoon advantage with their PH’s, they did send Smith up against David Price.)

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  7. Dan Mellen says:

    Pretty good fielder too. I’m surprised you didn’t mention that. I mean, you are Dave “Good Defense Gets Me Hot And Bothered” Cameron. You probably don’t know this, but that’s what we call you behind your back.

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  8. Blue says:

    I’ve been harping on about this lately, and one thing to note, albeit in a very small sample size, Smith is an absolute butcher in RF (to the tune of -38/150 UZR) but is good in left (24.4/150), and while the samples are small, a 50+ UZR/150 gap is indicative of him being much better in left.

    Also, his discipline numbers are phenomenal. O-swing 15.5%, Z-swing 64.6%, Z-contact% 88.1%. For comparison purposes, Manny Ramirez has an O-swing of 16.9%, Z-swing 69.7% Z-contact 86.2%. Carlos Gonzales has an O-swing of 32.6%

    I’m not saying that Seth Smith is Manny Ramirez, he doesn’t really have that kind of long ball talent, but he’s very capable of throwing together a .280/.380/.450 with 20+ dingers line, and I think that’s on the low side of it. He’s a solid 1 or 2 guy in the lineup, who gets on base a lot and has fairly good speed. He’s got a poor arm, but seems to play the outfield well, and while he’s horrendous in right, he’s above average in left. His minor leagues splits suggest that he maintains a decent average and ups his discipline for the most part against lefties, but loses a lot of his power, to the tune of a .260/.380/.380 line against them vs. a .340/.400/.590 line vs. righties. Combine that with Spilly’s career .319/.392/.520 line against lefties, and i think we have a great situation in left, really, if we could just get tracy to stop drooling over Gonzalez. I know that he’s who we got for Holliday, but he’s not who we need in the lineup, Clint Barmes makes me lose enough hair swinging at shitty pitches, and Gonzalez is from the same mold.

    And Wobatus, I’m a big fan of Spilly, but I think that Smith is a much more legitimate talent. In 800 plate appearances in AAA he put up a .319/.394/.527 line, and while that is at a very hitter friendly park in a hitter friendly league, he also put up a 15% bb rate his second time through, and he would be playing 81 games at Coors.

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  9. miked says:

    Spilbourghs is a great baseball player.. hes got good speed swings a good bat and he knows what hes doing on the field. smith has alot more up swing but so does cargo. cargo by the seasons end (if they stick with him) will be a very good 5 tool player.. i say poor Spilbourghs hasnt been able to get a full time gig his whole career. but smith was at one time their best hitting prospect being compared to helton..

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  10. RebelCub says:

    A video spoof: “Hitler wants Seth Smith to start”

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  11. Drew says:

    Looks like Smith is out, again.

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  12. Drew says:

    He’s the best one though, at least this year… To me, it makes no sense.

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  13. Tom says:

    I am hoping that smith is our long term answer at 1st but who knows this team is a bit schitzo but they are winning that said atkins should have been moved a long time ago

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  14. Paul F. says:

    The playoffs are here, and this post is still all-too-relevant.

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